Andy Palmer: Great Britain’s Deaf footballers deserve our admiration

Posted on June 12, 2015

A line of six-year-old footballers sat on the side of the lush-green Letchworth Eagles pitch on a sunny early summer’s day. Their parents clutching camera phones; watching and waiting patiently.

They were waiting to have their picture taken with Great Britain’s deaf football squad who were practicing corners in preparation for the European Championships that begin on Sunday. It was just one element of a grueling two-day training camp.

Eventually the players jogged over to the now excited kids for a group picture. To those little kids, these GB players are footballing gods. With the Union Jack emblazoned on their shirts – they are what many of those boys will aspire to be one day; international footballers.

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Harry Allen, Will Palmer, Daniel Hogan and Adam Breeze

Deaf or hearing? It is irrelevant to the children and to their parents who are keen for their sons to meet these accessible sporting heroes and hope a little bit of the magic rubs off.

Once the pictures are taken, the kids run around and show off their skills to the GB players who happily play along for a while and then ruffle the kids hair as they go their separate ways.

Those little footballers at Letchworth were at the right place at the right time; but the encounter raised a question: Why, when we are in need of good role models for deaf children don’t we turn more often to the GB Deaf football team? Why aren’t they more celebrated?

My son William was lucky enough to be invited to train with the GB team after appearing in a documentary earlier in the year about the future of deaf football. He didn’t know what to expect when he arrived; but at the end of the day he left inspired.

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Jeremy Millensted, Thomas Boyle, Sam Evans, Marios Costi, Harry Allen and Will Palmer laugh at a joke from Head Coach Chris McGinn

He met 22 men who displayed the attitude, focus and determination of any professional sports team. They welcomed him, encouraged him and, for one brilliant day, made him feel part of the team. Together, those players are a class apart. They are Britain’s hidden treasure.

Phillip Gardner, the long-serving manager of the team, is assisted by Head Coach Chris McGinn, a top-level coaching veteran who has served with Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal.

Phillip told me that they don’t just look for the physical or technical ability in a GB player, but attitude, behaviour, dedication and effort are often the deciding elements in selecting the squad. If the manager has lingering doubts about any of those attributes in a footballer – they shouldn’t expect another invitation.

After a day in their company it became obvious; not only are these players technically impressive, but they have dedicated their lives to representing their country and being the best that they can be. They have dedicated themselves to achieving their potential irrespective of the limitations that the world puts on deaf footballers.

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Phillip Gardner looks on as his team take a break

The men’s Deaf GB Team fly off to Hannover today to compete in the European Championships that begin on Sunday. The ladies team leave on Wednesday and both had to raise the money to travel, stay over and compete. They love their sport and their country. These role models deserve Britain’s support.

You can follow GB’s progress via Facebook and via SL First Sport.

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Managing Director of the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, runs Peterborough United’s deaf football teams and is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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